(Hey! Comic book guru and Super Agnostic Chris Bowsman here! I’m back with part 2 of my discussion of consciousness, the afterlife, and of course geekery and Agnosticism. Enjoy! – CB.)
ADVENTURES OF THE SUPER AGNOSTIC: CONSCIOUSNESS AND AFTERLIFE
“Each man hides a secret pain. It must be exposed and reckoned with. It must be dragged from the darkness and forced into the light. Share your pain. Share your pain with me… and gain strength from the sharing.”
– Sybok, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
In part one, I was talking about my back surgery, and being under anesthesia. So, I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed watching my surgery, and indeed it was my original fear that I might feel pain, or even die while watching it…and I also know that many people DO DIE IN PAIN, WATCHING. But, I didn’t. It was painless, and I woke back up. (But, I lived.) I think many people hope the same in death. That it will be peaceful or at least like a dream, but they put those hopes in terms of religious truth. The mistake is to see the dream as the reality.
Although the function of religion, I maintain, is artistic and formative to cultural identity, we can scientifically demonstrate that it is, at best, an anesthetic, like when Sybok uses his “God-given” powers to remove pain. But, his mistake was to confuse God with an imposter although his powers could still be used for Good. The mere fact that humans can survive surgery is no basis to stop using anesthesia. As Captain Kirk consoles Dr. McCoy: “Maybe he’s not out there, Bones. Maybe he’s right here. Human heart.” (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier)
In fact, because of the psycho-mythical effect of “human heart” and religion, it (religion and myth.) has borne works of great art, and meaningful philosophies which provide group narratives. Thus, means for personal reflection and consensus. And indeed, some believe that this one consensus, sometimes called religion, is the basis for human dignity and action! God, and The Meaning of life!
While I cannot fault these people for wanting to continue on peacefully through narratives, as I hope to, I cannot condone violence done in its name.
But, I respect people’s need to artistically express themselves, create worlds beyond the body, and to live comfortable lives of dignity and respect. I think that religion offers people a chance to express all this, if taken only personally, and meditated on. As Yoda notes: “A Jedi uses the Force only in defense. Never for attack.” Nevertheless, I myself do not know what created the consciousness of the brain, where our capacity for personal liberty and life begins. I would be happy to call that god. And in a sense, our dignity comes from it, and well as great horrors that I believe can be overcome through shared narratives.
I can hear my religious friends protesting now that anesthesia isn’t death. But, I say to them it is the death of consciousness, which is often held to be the soul…or Force, if you must. If that isn’t death, then what is? Fundamentally, I believe my religious and hardcore non-religious friends simply have different languages and stories for explaining the human universals of life and death. One is anthropocentric, the other is not. If you take religion as literally true, it is a result of some human need or anxiety, and if you attack another person because of it, regardless of race, gender, class, or belief, that is not acting religiously: for the aim of religion is to respect human consciousness, which is called god perhaps, and that binds us together, against all evidence that we cannot be bound together.
For my atheist friends, I say you can believe what you want, and it is probably true that there is no afterlife, but studying cultures for a while, and personal experience has taught me that sometimes the language of dignity and human worth takes the form of religion. Those who remain focused on human dignity, autonomy, and humility are truly religious. I know, because I’ve suffered at the hands of pseudo-religious people, and have seen the difference between their neuroses, and true faith, which is respect even in the face of different and contrary realities. Though I don’t know if there is an external force to this, I have pretty good evidence that there is none. Unless you call my brain shutting down a form of art. But, I’ll carry on through those artistic stories. Live long, and prosper! (And may The Force be with you!)
About Chris Bowsman, comic and gaming editor: I’m a passionate disability rights advocate, sci-fi fan, and intercultural communication guy. I have cerebral palsy. I like video games. I have a master’s degree in Intercultural communication and a B.A. in German. I hope to go overseas again someday. Haven’t been to Germany. I’ve been to Spain. I like movies. Raised in Port Huron, MI. Went to College in PA. Looking at the world through the eyes of aliens. Blogspot: www.christopherbowsman.blogspot.com